"But – "
"Listen till I have done, Ayala." Then there was another squeeze. "I suppose you are what they call romantic. Romance, my dear, won't buy bread and butter. Tom is a very good young man, and he loves you most dearly. If you will consent to be his I will make a rich man of him. He will then be a respectable man of business, and will become a partner in the house. You and he can choose a place to live in almost where you please. You can have your own establishment and your carriage, and will be able to do a deal of good. You will make him happy, and you will be my dear child. I have come here to tell you that I will make you welcome into the family, and to promise that I will do everything I can to make you happy. Now you may say what you like; but, Ayala, think a little before you speak."
Ayala thought a little; – not as to what she should say, but as to the words in which she might say it. She was conscious that a great compliment was paid to her. And there was a certain pride in her heart as she thought that this invitation into the family had come to her after that ignominious accusation of encouragement had been made. Augusta had snubbed her about Tom, and her aunt; but now she was asked to come among them, and be one of them, with full observances. She was aware of all this, and aware, also, that such treatment required from her a gracious return. But not on that account could she give herself to the Beast. Not on that account could she be untrue to her image. Not on that account could she rob her bosom of that idea of love which was seated there. Not on that account could she look upon the marriage proposed to her with aught but a shuddering abhorrence. She sat silent for a minute or two, while her heavy eyes were fixed upon his. Then, falling on her knees before him, she put up her little hands to pray to him. "Uncle Tom, I can't," she said. And then the tears came running down her cheeks.
"Why can't you, Ayala? Why cannot you be sensible, as other girls are?" said Sir Thomas, lifting her up, and putting her on his knee.
"I can't," she said. "I don't know how to tell you."
"Do you love some other man?"
"No; no; no!" To Uncle Tom, at any rate, she need say nothing of the image.
"Then why is it?"
"Because I can't. I don't know what to say, but I can't. I know how very, very, very good you are."
"I would love you as my daughter."
"But I can't, Uncle Tom. Pray tell him, and make him get somebody else. He would be quite happy if he could get somebody else."
"It is you that he loves."
"But what's the use of it, when I can't? Dear, dear Uncle Tom, do have it all settled for me. Nothing on earth could ever make me do it. I should die if I were to try."
"I do so want not to make you angry, Uncle Tom. And I do so wish he would be happy with someone else. Nobody ought to be made to marry unless they like it; – ought they?"
"There is no talk of making," said Sir Thomas, frowning.
"At any rate I can't," said Ayala, releasing herself from her uncle's embrace.
It was in vain that even after this he continued his request, begging her to come down to Glenbogie, so that she might make herself used to Tom and his ways.
At the time fixed the Marchesa's carriage came, and Ayala with her boxes was taken away to Brook Street. Uncle Reginald had offered to do something for her in the way of buying a frock, but this she refused, declaring that she would not allow herself to become an expense merely because her friends in Rome had been kind to her. So she had packed up the best of what she had and started, with her heart in her mouth, fearing the grandeur of the Marchesa's house. On her arrival she was received by Nina, who at once threw herself into all her old intimacy. "Oh, Ayala," she said, "this is so nice to have you again. I have been looking forward to this ever since we left Rome."
"Yes," said Ayala, "it is nice."
"But why did you tell mamma you would not come? What nonsense to talk to her about frocks? Why not come and tell me? You used to have everything at Rome, much more than I had."
Then Ayala began to explain the great difference between Uncle Tom and Uncle Reginald, – how Uncle Tom had so many thousands that nobody could count them, how Uncle Reginald was so shorn in his hundreds that there was hardly enough to supply the necessaries of life. "You see," she said, "when papa died Lucy and I were divided. I got the rich uncle, and Lucy got the poor one; but I made myself disagreeable, and didn't suit, and so we have been changed."
"But why did you make yourself disagreeable?" said Nina, opening her eyes. "I remember when we were at Rome your cousin Augusta was always quarrelling with you. I never quite knew what it was all about."
"It wasn't only that," said Ayala, whispering.
"Did you do anything very bad?"
Then it occurred to Ayala that she might tell the whole story to her friend, and she told it. She explained the nature of that great persecution as to Tom. "And that was the real reason why we were changed," said Ayala, as she completed her story.
"I remember seeing the young man," said Nina.
"He is such a lout!"
"But was he very much in love?" asked Nina.
"Well, I don't know. I suppose he was after his way. I don't think louts like that can be very much in love to signify. Young men when they look like that would do with one girl as well as another."
"I don't see that at all," said Nina.
"I am sure he would if he'd only try. At any rate what's the good of his going on? They can't make a girl marry unless she chooses."
"Won't he be rich?"
"Awfully rich," said Ayala.
"Then I should think about it again," said the young lady from Rome.
"Never," said Ayala, with an impressive whisper. "I will never think about it again. If he were made of diamonds I would not think about it again."
"And is that why you were changed?" said Nina.
"Well, yes. No; it is very hard to explain. Aunt Emmeline told me that – that I encouraged him. I thought I should have rushed out of the house when she said that. Then I had to be changed. I don't know whether they could forgive me, but I could not forgive her."
"And how is it now?"
"It is different now," said Ayala, softly. "Only that it can't make any real difference."
"They'd let me come if I would, I suppose; but I shall never, never go to them any more."
"I suppose you won't tell me everything?" said Nina, after a pause.
"You won't be angry if I ask?"
"No, I will not be angry."
"I suppose there is someone else you really care for?"
"There is no one," said Ayala, escaping a little from her friend's embrace.
"Then why should you be so determined against that poor young man?"
"Because he is a lout and a beast," said Ayala, jumping up. "I wonder you should ask me; – as if that had anything to do with it. Would you fall in love with a lout because you had no one else? I would rather live for ever all alone, even in Kingsbury Crescent, than have to think of becoming the wife of my cousin Tom." At this Nina shrugged her shoulders, showing that her education in Italy had been less romantic than that accorded to Ayala in London.
But, though Nina differed somewhat from Ayala as to their ideas as to life in general, they were close friends, and everything was done both by the Marchesa and by her daughter to make Ayala happy. There was not very much of going into grand society, and that difficulty about the dresses solved itself, as do other difficulties. There came a few presents, with entreaties from Ayala that presents of that kind might not be made. But the presents were, of course, accepted, and our girl was as prettily arrayed, if not as richly, as the best around her. At first there was an evening at the opera, and then a theatre, – diversions which are easy. Ayala, after her six dull months in Kingsbury Crescent, found herself well pleased to be taken to easy amusements. The carriage in the park was delightful to her, and delightful a visit which was made to her by Lucy. For the Tringle carriage could be spared for a visit in Brook Street, even though there was still a remembrance in the bosom of Aunt Emmeline of the evil things which had been done by the Marchesa in Rome. Then there came a dance, – which was not so easy. The Marchesa and Nina were going to a dance at Lady Putney's, and arrangements were made that Ayala should be taken. Ayala begged that there might be no arrangements, declared that she would be quite happy to see Nina go forth in her finery. But the Marchesa was a woman who always had her way, and Ayala was taken to Lady Putney's dance without a suspicion on the part of any who saw her that her ball-room apparatus was not all that it ought to be.
Ayala when she entered the room was certainly a little bashful. When in Rome, even in the old days at the bijou, when she did not consider herself to be quite out, she had not been at all bashful. She had been able to enjoy herself entirely, being very fond of dancing, conscious that she could dance well, and always having plenty to say for herself. But now there had settled upon her something of the tedium, something of the silence, of Kingsbury Crescent, and she almost felt that she would not know how to behave herself if she were asked to stand up and dance before all Lady Putney's world. In her first attempt she certainly was not successful. An elderly gentleman was brought up to her, – a gentleman whom she afterwards declared to be a hundred, and who was, in truth, over forty, and with him she man?uvred gently through a quadrille. He asked her two or three questions to which she was able to answer only in monosyllables. Then he ceased his questions, and the man?uvres were carried on in perfect silence. Poor Ayala did not attribute any blame to the man. It was all because she had been six months in Kingsbury Crescent. Of course this aged gentleman, if he wanted to dance, would have a partner chosen for him out of Kingsbury Crescent. Conversation was not to be expected from a gentleman who was made to stand up with Kingsbury Crescent. Any powers of talking that had ever belonged to herself had of course evaporated amidst the gloom of Kingsbury Crescent. After this she was returned speedily to the wings of the Marchesa, and during the next dance sat in undisturbed peace. Then suddenly, when the Marchesa had for a moment left her, and when Nina had just been taken away to join a set, she saw the man of silence coming to her from a distance, with an evident intention of asking her to stand up again. It was in his eye, in his toe, as he came bowing forward. He had evidently learned to suppose that they two outcasts might lessen their miseries by joining them together. She was to dance with him because no one else would ask her! She had plucked up her spirit and resolved that, desolate as she might be, she would not descend so far as that, when, in a moment, another gentleman sprang in, as it were, between her and her enemy, and addressed her with free and easy speech as though he had known her all her life. "You are Ayala Dormer, I am sure," said he. She looked up into his face and nodded her head at him in her own peculiar way. She was quite sure that she had never set her eyes on him before. He was so ugly that she could not have forgotten him. So at least she told herself. He was very, very ugly, but his voice was very pleasant. "I knew you were, and I am Jonathan Stubbs. So now we are introduced, and you are to come and dance with me."
She had heard the name of Jonathan Stubbs. She was sure of that, although she could not at the moment join any facts with the name. "But I don't know you," she said, hesitating. Though he was so ugly he could not but be better than that ancient dancer whom she saw standing at a distance, looking like a dog that has been deprived of his bone.
"Yes, you do," said Jonathan Stubbs, "and if you'll come and dance I'll tell you about it. The Marchesa told me to take you."
"Did she?" said Ayala, getting up, and putting her little hand upon his arm.
"I'll go and fetch her if you like; only she's a long way off, and we shall lose our place. She's my aunt."
"Oh," said Ayala, quite satisfied, – remembering now that she had heard her friend Nina boast of a Colonel cousin, who was supposed to be the youngest Colonel in the British army, who had done some wonderful thing, – taken a new province in India, or marched across Africa, or defended the Turks, – or perhaps conquered them. She knew that he was very brave, – but why was he so very ugly? His hair was ruby red, and very short; and he had a thick red beard: not silky, but bristly, with each bristle almost a dagger, – and his mouth was enormous. His eyes were very bright, and there was a smile about him, partly of fun, partly of good humour. But his mouth! And then that bristling beard! Ayala was half inclined to like him, because he was so completely master of himself, so unlike the unhappy ancient gentleman who was still hovering at a distance. But why was he so ugly? And why was he called Jonathan Stubbs?
"There now," he said, "we can't get in at any of the sets. That's your fault."
"No, it isn't," said Ayala.
"Yes, it is. You wouldn't stand up till you had heard all about me."
"I don't know anything about you now."
"Then come and walk about and I'll tell you. Then we shall be ready for a waltz. Do you waltz well?"
"I'll back myself against any Englishman, Frenchman, German, or Italian, for a large sum of money. I can't come quite up to the Poles. The fact is, the honester the man is the worse he always dances. Yes; I see what you mean. I must be a rogue. Perhaps I am; – perhaps I'm only an exception. I knew your father."
"Yes, I did. He was down at Stalham with the Alburys once. That was five years ago, and he told me he had a daughter named Ayala. I didn't quite believe him."
"It is such an out-of-the-way name."
"It's as good as Jonathan, at any rate." And Ayala again nodded her head.
"There's a prejudice about Jonathan, as there is about Jacob and Jonah. I never could quite tell why. I was going to marry a girl once with a hundred thousand pounds, and she wouldn't have me at last because she couldn't bring her lips to say Jonathan. Do you think she was right?"
"Did she love you?" said Ayala, looking up into his face.
"Awfully! But she couldn't bear the name; so within three months she gave herself and all her money to Mr. Montgomery Talbot de Montpellier. He got drunk, and threw her out of the window before a month was over. That's what comes of going in for sweet names."
"I don't believe a word of it," said Ayala.
"Very well. Didn't Septimus Traffick marry your cousin?"
"Of course he did, about a month ago."
"He is another friend of mine. Why didn't you go to your cousin's marriage?"
"There were reasons," said Ayala.
"I know all about it," said the Colonel. "You quarreled with Augusta down in Scotland, and you don't like poor Traffick because he has got a bald head."
"I believe you're a conjuror," said Ayala.
"And then your cousin was jealous because you went to the top of St. Peter's, and because you would walk with Mr. Traffick on the Pincian. I was in Rome, and saw all about it."
"I won't have anything more to do with you," said Ayala.
"And then you quarreled with one set of uncles and aunts, and now you live with another."
"Your aunt told you that."
"And I know your cousin, Tom Tringle."
"You know Tom?" asked Ayala.
"Yes; he was ever so good to me in Rome about a horse; I like Tom Tringle in spite of his chains. Don't you think, upon the whole, if that young lady had put up with Jonathan she would have done better than marry Montpellier? But now they're going to waltz, come along."
Thereupon Ayala got up and danced with him for the next ten minutes. Again and again before the evening was over she danced with him; and although, in the course of the night, many other partners had offered themselves, and many had been accepted, she felt that Colonel Jonathan Stubbs had certainly been the partner of the evening. Why should he be so hideously ugly? said Ayala to herself, as she wished him good night before she left the room with the Marchesa and Nina.
"What do you think of my nephew?" said the Marchesa, when they were in the carriage together.
"Do tell us what you think of Jonathan?" asked Nina.
"I thought he was very good-natured."
"And very handsome?"
"Nina, don't be foolish. Jonathan is one of the most rising officers in the British service, and luckily he can be that without being beautiful to look at."
"I declare," said Nina, "sometimes, when he is talking, I think him perfectly lovely. The fire comes out of his eyes, and he rubs his old red hairs about till they sparkle. Then he shines all over like a carbuncle, and every word he says makes me die of laughter."
"I laughed too," said Ayala.
"But you didn't think him beautiful," said Nina.
"No, I did not," said Ayala. "I liked him very much, but I thought him very ugly. Was it true about the young lady who married Mr. Montgomery de Montpellier and was thrown out of window a week afterwards?"
"There is one other thing I must tell you about Jonathan," said Nina. "You must not believe a word that he says."
"That I deny," said the Marchesa; "but here we are. And now, girls, get out of the carriage and go up to bed at once."
Ayala, before she went to sleep, and again when she woke in the morning, thought a great deal about her new friend. As to shining like a carbuncle, – perhaps he did, but that was not her idea of manly beauty. And hair ought not to sparkle. She was sure that Colonel Stubbs was very, very ugly. She was almost disposed to think that he was the ugliest man she had ever seen. He certainly was a great deal worse than her cousin Tom, who, after all, was not particularly ugly. But, nevertheless, she would very much rather dance with Colonel Stubbs. She was sure of that, even without reference to Tom's objectionable love-making. Upon the whole she liked dancing with Colonel Stubbs, ugly as he was. Indeed, she liked him very much. She had spent a very pleasant evening because he had been there. "It all depends upon whether any one has anything to say." That was the determination to which she came when she endeavoured to explain to herself how it had come to pass that she had liked dancing with anybody so very hideous. The Angel of Light would of course have plenty to say for himself, and would be something altogether different in appearance. He would be handsome, – or rather, intensely interesting, and his talk would be of other things. He would not say of himself that he danced as well as though he were a rogue, or declare that a lady had been thrown out of a window the week after she was married. Nothing could be more unlike an Angel of Light than Colonel Stubbs, – unless, perhaps, it were Tom Tringle. Colonel Stubbs, however, was completely unangelic, – so much so that the marvel was that he should yet be so pleasant. She had no horror of Colonel Stubbs at all. She would go anywhere with Colonel Stubbs, and feel herself to be quite safe. She hoped she might meet him again very often. He was, as it were, the Genius of Comedy, without a touch of which life would be very dull. But the Angel of Light must have something tragic in his composition, – must verge, at any rate, on tragedy. Ayala did not know that beautiful description of a "Sallow, sublime, sort of Werther-faced man," but I fear that in creating her Angel of Light she drew a picture in her imagination of a man of that kind.
Days went on, till the last day of Ayala's visit had come, and it was necessary that she should go back to Kingsbury Crescent. It was now August, and everybody was leaving town. The Marchesa and Nina were going to their relations, the Alburys, at Stalham, and could not, of course, take Ayala with them. The Dosetts would remain in town for another month, with a distant hope of being able to run down to Pegwell Bay for a fortnight in September. But even that had not yet been promised. Colonel Stubbs had been more than once at the house in Brook Street, and Ayala had come to know him almost as she might some great tame dog. It was now the afternoon of the last day, and she was sorry because she would not be able to see him again. She was to be taken to the theatre that night, – and then to Kingsbury Crescent and the realms of Lethe early on the following morning.